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City, Culture & Community Program Library Guide

Research guide for students in the graduate program City, Culture, & Community, sponsored by the department of Sociology and the School of Social Work.

Planning your Dissertation


Your research question will determine what type of research you conduct. Surveying existing literature will help you get an idea of the knowledge that exists on the topic; this will inform your own research and interpretations it will also help you determine weather you will conduct primary research, secondary research, or a combination.  

- primary research - gathering new data that has not been collected before; surveys, interviews, experiments

- secondary research - synthesis and analysis of existing research 

Primary research

If you plan to conduct qualitative or quantitative research, or experiments, start on these as soon as you can. Gathering data takes a lot of time. Students often have difficulty securing participants/respondents; this can throw off your entire research schedule. Scientific experiments are also time consuming especially if they require Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. You can find Tulane's IRB website here:

  • Design and plan your data collection methods – check them with your supervisor and see if they fit with your methodology.
  • Identify and plan for any ethical issues with collecting your data.
  • Do a test or pilot questionnaire as soon as possible so you can make changes if necessary.
  • Identify your sample size and control groups.
  • Have a contingency plan if not everyone is willing to participate.
  • Keep good records

Secondary research

Be methodical when beginning your research take an approach that will make your reading and notes meaningful in order to eliminate having to reread and hunt for quotes, data, and citations.

  • Start with one main text and build up.
  • Once you have an overview, formulate some sub-questions which will help answer your main dissertation question.
  • Look for the answers to these questions.
  • Do more reading to fill in the gaps.
  • Keep thinking, and analyzing the relevance of the information as you go along.
  • You can't read everything, so be selective.

Bullet points in this box were adapted from the AMAZING University of Redding LibGuide

Data Management

Research Data is often unique and irreplaceable. Typically, it has value extending many years beyond the termination of the project from which it was generated.

  • How likely is it the hardware, software or media will fail or become obsolete?
  • What would be the impact of any failure?
  • What security systems are in place?
  • What disaster recovery procedures are in place?
  • What is the availability of support by professional IT staff?

Researchers must ensure that all research data, regardless of format, is stored securely and backed up or copied regularly.

Storage and backup arrangements need to cover the life of the research project, and also the statutory minimum period of retention.
In most cases, data will need to be kept for a minimum of 5 years after publication of the research results, so understanding your storage options and documenting your backup regime is an important part of data management planning.

Students may create personal accounts directly with Box with 10GB of storage. Visit to set up your box account. Please note that the password you set up with Box will not be synced with your Tulane password.

Microsoft’s OneDrive is also available to students as a free cloud storage solution. OneDrive is a part of Microsoft Office365 and provides one terabyte of storage as long as a student is enrolled at Tulane. See our knowledge Base article here: to learn how to access OneDrive

Tulane has options! Please visit the Technology Services website for additional information.


It is extremely important to develop an intuitive naming convention to keep your files organized. Over the course of your research you will save many types of files and versions of your writing and data. Create a naming convention early on. When deciding on format think about the following:

  • Project or experiment name or acronym
  • Location/spatial coordinates
  • Researcher name/initials
  • Date or date range of experiment
  • Type of data
  • Conditions
  • Version number of file
  • Three-letter file extension for application-specific files

For example:






Writing is often the most daunting task of the dissertation process. Creating a writing plan and frequent check ins with your faculty advisor can be the key to staying on track. Don't know where to start? Try the following:

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